Serving people well requires excellent organization and communication. 10 years ago I created a system to manage my inbox. The processes in the system help me respond promptly with the necessary information, be proactive, and reduce overwhelm while serving multiple clients and their teams.
I have three email accounts with distinct purposes. This setup allows me to manage my attention and focus on the important.
- BUSINESS: My business email (@melissakayjones.com) is strictly for you, client conversations, and business finances. I don’t use this email for any newsletters. Only the critical apps (ex: accounting) use this email. This reduces a lot of clutter.
- PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS: My personal email (@gmail) is solely for friends and family. Occasionally a client may see it due to shared Google documents, but I don’t conduct business conversations with this account.
- PERSONAL: My secondary personal email (@yahoo) is the recipient of all newsletter subscriptions, apps, shopping, personal bills, and product updates. This allows me to read these emails at my leisure.
I turn off email notifications for apps. The exception is QBO. Eliminating these notifications reduces disruptions and the feeling of overwhelm.
The benefit of an email alert is more of a benefit to the Saas provider than to you. It keeps you in the app which is more money for them and not necessarily for you. Where applicable, go to the settings and turn off email notifications.
I don’t feel obligated to stay subscribed to emails I rarely read. I’ve learned to let go.
If there are emails you never open, but feel obligated to keep (industry friend, FOMO, etc.) go ahead and unsubscribe. Get your time and mental space back.
- It takes up valuable time and attention which you could be using elsewhere.
- It requires brain power to decide what to do with the email (read the subject line, do I want to open this? do I need to save this? etc). This all takes away from your energy reserve. Energy you can apply elsewhere.
- You’re not doing anyone any favors by staying subscribed. Being an inactive subscriber (not opening or clicking) is worse than unsubscribing for your friend’s metrics and deliverability. Inactive subscribers are what tell email service providers to put emails in the spam folder.
📌 Review each new email. Keep or unsubscribe? If you keep it, is it going to the right inbox (business vs personal)? If not, then update your email preferences.
Thoughtful subject lines
I start the subject line with the purpose of the email and include a date when applicable. This makes it easy for the recipient to see at a glance what to do with my email and how to prioritize it.
- ACTION by 07/05:
- FYI: Update to Project
- RESOURCE: SEO Article
- SCHEDULE: Team Meeting
- TIP: Client Service Responses
Only necessary parties
Most of the time your boss or client doesn’t need to be copied on every email interaction. Send messages directly “to:” the people who are responsible for making a decision. If it is necessary to keep someone in the loop, then “cc:” them. If you’re acknowledging an action or receipt of an email, you don’t need to “reply all”.
Make it easy for others to read, manage, and respond to your email. Emails should not be a stream of consciousness. Be clear and concise in your message.
- Use bullet points and short sentences.
- Be direct to make your message easy to understand. Extra fluff can create confusion.
- Highlight direct requests in bold and include date for required action or response.
- Include the details they need to take action and reduce back and forth. This could be an attachment, link to resources, or options (choose Monday or Wednesday).
Resourceful email signatures
I have a different signature for new emails (detailed) than replies (basic).
- Does your signature include the necessary contact information?
- If it includes links, do the links work?
- If you use a graphic signature card, is your information easy to add to a contact book?
- If necessary for your profession, do you have the appropriate legal disclaimers?
Logo or profile pictures are helpful but don’t always show across email platforms. Make sure to include alt-text.
Include OOO dates or holiday closings that occur within the next 30 days.
Manage out-of-office expectations
Tell clients and team members when you will be out office in advance and you won’t be able to respond during this time. Have a plan in place so they will continue to feel supported. This could include completing work in advance, delegating tasks, and/or scheduling a touch-base meeting upon your return. Being proactive with expectations and support will help reduce inbox overload.
Your OOO email should be concise and let the recipient know when they can expect a reply. It is not the place for an FAQ directory.
“I’m out of the office until Thursday, January 14, 2021. I’ll respond to your email upon my return. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Sarah (email@example.com).“
I use the same organization method across my business. Folders are by the department/team for both emails, Notion, and Google Drive. Consistency across platforms makes it easier for productivity and delegation.
Use inbox rules or tags
In Outlook, I categorize emails that I need to respond to by project. This color-coding aligns with my calendar for time-blocking. In Gmail, you can use labels for the same purpose.
My calendar is where I make an exception and include personal events. I live by one calendar since there is only one me. I’ve found it’s the best way to manage my calendar vs trying to sync between business and personal.
The categories below align with my life goals (health + wellness, leisure, relationships, finances, personal growth) and business (mtg, projects, and clients). This is what works for me now at this stage.
Additional Inbox Practices
I don’t use Slack. I’m not a fan of it since I believe it encourages disruptions and micromanagement.
I keep business conversations out of my DMs (phone and social). It’s wise to have a paper trail for business conversations. Having one consistent place for those conversations benefits you, clients, and your team when needing to refer back to something is helpful. I use DMs for light-hearted conversations and connections.
I hope you found a new tip to improve your inbox and communication with peers!